Key features of Turner's bill include:
-- A limit on funds for the reduction of deployed weapons under the New START agreement pending joint certification by the Energy and Defense secretaries that the nuclear arsenal modernization plan, described last November in the administration's so-called "Section 1251 Report Update," is proceeding as planned.
Funds for arms control reductions would be frozen for six months if modernization progress is impeded, though "the provision is carefully crafted to avoid treaty default," according to a Turner fact sheet;
-- A ban on unilateral reductions in deployed or nondeployed U.S. nuclear weapons below the levels set by New START. In what might prove to be one of its most controversial provisions, the legislation prohibits the administration from taking any cuts to the so-called nuclear "hedge force" until a new plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a uranium facility at Oak Ridge, Tenn., are up and running.
"The reason is obvious," Kyl said. "Until you have the capability of reproducing the warheads, you don't want to eliminate the hedge that you have."
The Obama administration has, in fact, mulled a faster pace for disassembly of backup warheads, which typically are maintained for possible deployment in the event of a resurgent threat or the discovery of a major malfunction in fielded weapons (see GSN, March 1, 2010).
Under the bill, further unilateral reductions to either deployed or nondeployed warheads could be authorized only by a new treaty or an act of Congress;
-- A requirement to preserve "U.S. freedom of action" in deploying missile defenses, preventing any international agreements from limiting an antimissile system unless authorized by a future treaty or congressional action. This provision comes as Washington and Moscow intensify discussions about potentially collaborating on a joint European antimissile system, an objective that Kyl has sharply criticized (see GSN, May 3 and April 12); and
-- A block against the United States or NATO unilaterally cutting Washington's tactical nuclear weapons in Europe unless certain conditions are met, including a host nation or high-level alliance request. The Senate has pressed the administration to seek Russian reductions in its European nonstrategic nuclear weapon deployments, which outnumber similar NATO-fielded weapons 10 to 1 (see GSN, Nov. 24, 2010).
This, too, could prove politically contentious in the face of growing pressure in Europe for the United States to pull back some or all of its estimated 200 nuclear-armed B-61 gravity bombs from bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey (see GSN, May 7, 2010).
"We want to make certain that the United States doesn't either consolidate, withdraw or reduce its forces in Europe in exchange for no action by Russia or just a geographical concession, where Russia just merely agrees to move its weapons back" from border areas, Turner said.
Asked whether the U.S. president currently has the latitude to take unilateral reductions in tactical weapons deployed in Europe, Kyl said "it depends" on a number of factors.
"As commander in chief, he has certain authority -- for example, within NATO councils -- to deploy forces," said the Senate minority whip. "What we are suggesting is that if he wants our consent to a potential treaty with Russia, for example, relating to tactical weapons or reducing strategic weapons further, he should seek our advice up front."
Three provisions in Turner's stand-alone measure already appear in the House Armed Services Committee chairman's mark-up of the authorization bill.
One feature would direct the Defense secretary to assess whether current and future U.S. nuclear forces meet their deterrence and defense objectives. Another seeks an annual review of the safety, security, reliability and effectiveness of nuclear delivery systems and command over these weapons.
A third Turner measure in the pending authorization legislation codifies fiscal 2010 modernization plans for nuclear warheads, delivery platforms, and infrastructure.
Anticipated amendments to the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill include four that would insert additional Turner provisions into the funding legislation, the House subcommittee chairman said.
Those include: a prohibition on adopting a new counter-city nuclear targeting strategy without congressional notification; measures on modernization requirements for weapons; limits on changes to U.S. missile defense plans; and tactical nuclear weapons posture directives.
Kyl said the administration has included its pledged 10-year budget planning figures in the fiscal 2012 budget request, "but we also appreciate that those numbers probably will have to be revised upward as additional revisions to the so-called 1251 plan are made."
The White House, he said, so far has not backed away from its nuclear modernization promises. However, "we have significant issues about the triad," added Kyl, referring to the lawmakers' intent to ensure that modernization of all three legs remains fully funded.